Every now and then in a client consult, the couple I’m meeting with will throw something at me that is unexpected or interesting or makes me pause. The first time, I made it into a post, and now I’m thinking I should really take the time to blog about this stuff – under the headline Infrequently Asked Questions (IAQs). Some of the things my potential clients throw at me is fascinating to me to dissect and possibly interesting or useful to someone looking to hire me.
The other day, the people I was meeting with asked me what bothers me about other photographers – their images or the way they conduct themselves. Everyone (or nearly everyone) I meet with is hiring a photographer for the first time, trying to determine what is important and what doesn’t matter; how much they need to spend to get the images they want, without really knowing what they want. So really, this is a great question, assuming they actually like me and my images. So here we go – things photographers do that bother me, with hopefully enough respect:
It goes without saying that professional photographers should act the part: be dressed appropriately, take quality photographs, conduct themselves like business people, not doing anything illegal or unnecessarily dangerous or disruptive and generally act like professionals.
Processing – anything but “classic”
(By the by, this is a list of things that bother me. It’s a matter of personal taste in some cases. /disclaimer) Piss-yellow skies, overexposure, black and whites with no black and no white – processing is the last creative choice we make with our images. When I process mine, I do it so they will look good forever. It’s important to me that the images I’m creating for my clients can be hung proudly with their parents’ and, maybe on down the road, their children’s wedding images. “Vintage” processing, weird saturation effects, one part of the image in color and the rest black and white… these are trends and they are not effects photographers are going to employ 10 years from now. That means your images are going to be dated. For some folks, that’s fine – they enjoy the look and I don’t begrudge them that. But it sure as heck bothers me personally to see perfectly good images manipulated so much.
Tilt-shift lenses, camera tilt, flowers in focus with the couple out of focus and all those nit-picky things
These things are even more subjective. Sometimes using a tilt-shift lens is a sensible creative choice and there are plenty of photographers who employ it well. Unfortunately, for the rest, they are ruining what might otherwise have been a great image. Tilt-shift is the vaseline-on-the-lens of our day. It’s popular now and it’s going to be out of fashion soon enough… you can already see what we might call the “pioneers” of tilt-shifting heading out of the arena, even as us mere mortals struggle to make something useful. Every now and then, the tilt-shift lens is a freakin’ amazing tool, but most of the time it’s a weird distraction.
Camera tilt. I super hate camera tilt. Seriously. I really don’t consider myself that OCD, but horizons have to be straight, or I start losing it. I probably spend more time correcting straight lines in my editing than just about anything else.
Flowers, hands, feet, etc. etc. in focus, with the couples’ faces way out of focus. Drives me nuts. When I see this done in a way that makes any sense at all, I absolutely flip out, because most of the time it’s outrageously annoying.
“Creative” photos taken at the expense of flattering light/angles, etc. So this is sort of a whole ‘nother ballpark. I see many photographers go after the “creative” shot – interesting angles, unusual composition, great use of color, generally fascinating images… but the bride and groom look fat, or bored, or you can hardly see their faces, or the couple is so small you can’t even tell who’s in the picture. This, to me, is a failed image. If you have a brilliant composition but your clients look bad, they’re not going to want to put it on their wall, full stop. It’s important to me that, even when I’m making a more artistic image, I still have my clients in flattering light, and posing them so that they look their best. Otherwise, what is the point?
Above all, any of these non-traditional photography devices used specifically for family portraits makes me spaz out. There is no way any family wants a 45-degree tilt on their photos. No one is going to frame that and Grandma is going to throw a fit about it. (Or silently stew, depending on your family.) I give a pass to unsuccessful creative attempts *every single other* place in the wedding but freakin’ family photos need to be clean, pretty and flattering.
The shot perfection – unobtrusiveness spectrum
And now we come to something that is completely a matter of taste. I was at a photography conference a few months ago, where one of the speakers was discussing a few parts of the wedding day. To my discomfort, he was telling a story of how he got the bride and her mother near this great window light, and then proceeded to ask them to hug and smile at each other, adjusting them as he went. This particular photographer was directing a moment, not capturing something genuine and spontaneous. For some, that is fine. For others, this would absolutely destroy their wedding day, as their photographer is constantly inserting themselves and making their presence known.
This is a spectrum I talk about with most of the clients I meet. On the one end, you have a photographer who sets everything up – first dance should be more or less in this spot, mom should make sure to look up to the left a lot during this speech, if your cousin could just step a little away from that column… the tradeoff, of course, is that your photos will almost certainly be more perfect. Everyone will be in the absolutely best light; they will always be at the most flattering angles. And your entire wedding day will feel like a movie production, with you as the lead actors. On the other end of the spectrum is the photographer who doesn’t even set up lights because the flashing is distracting, or doesn’t “do” family pictures or picks one spot during the ceremony and stays there the whole time, so as not to be seen. The tradeoff, of course, is that you will be totally unaware of your photographer, and enjoy your day without distraction.
Most photographers fall in the middle. I fall pretty far to the unobtrusiveness side, particularly during the ceremony. Some photographers have no qualms about getting up on the very altar, and shooting back towards the audience. This of course means that all your guests were seeing your photographer take this photograph. The one time I felt I had to turn away a potential client was because he specifically wanted these kinds of images and that’s just not how I roll. When the groom gives his bride a knowing glance, when a bridesmaid claps excitedly, when mom starts tearing up – I will do my best to see and creative beautiful images from these moments. But I’m not going to script a wedding. I’m there to document, not direct.
I think that wraps up the big ones for me. Naturally, there are tons of things photographers do – at weddings and before/after – that drive me nuts, but these are the ones that really matter for clients. Some will want in-your-face multi-person teams wielding tilt-shift lenses and making everything a subtle shade of pink. Others are hoping to spend most of their day blissfully unaware that they’ve hired a photographer, and receive images that, while perhaps not particularly trendy, will hopefully stand the test of time. (Uh yeah, that’s what I do, just in case we were wondering if this was a commercial. It is.) Until the next time you feel like reading an enormous block of text on a photographer’s website.